Waaaaay Off Camera Lighting

These days, you have to go to some lengths to bring home dramatic pictures of oft-photographed icons, like the moai of Easter Island, for instance. Seen ’em a million times in the daylight. But they’re in the dark at night, there’s no “son et lumiere” tourist light show, or even electricity out there. How do you light six 21-foot structures in the middle of nowhere?

You take that light waaaaay off camera.

Photo © Bob Krist

My first instinct is to use a small flash, one of my Nikon SB 800 speedlights, and “paint” the statues with the flash during a long exposure. Trouble is, these are big statues and at twilight, when the sky is still a nice royal blue and you get good separation, you can’t keep the shutter open long enough to allow for the recycle times you’d run into without overexposing the sky and melting your flash unit..  Enter the flashlight on steroids, a million candlepower job I shoved in my suitcase before I left.vec117fs_1150x150

Available for about $20 at any hardware store, these babies put out some major light. They’re not too terribly big or heavy (but I did leave mine behind in E.I to lighten my load afterward). Look for a rechargeable model and if it has a cord to charge from a car’s cigarette lighter, all the better.

I wrapped some Blackwrap around the reflector to snoot it off a bit to prevent spill.  Before I left Pennsylvania, I practiced lightpainting my two story stone house with the same flashlight, so by the time  I got to Easter Island, I had a ballpark exposure for painting at twilight (30 seconds @f/5.6 at ISO 200 on a D200).

I set up the camera on a tripod with a cable release.  Now, usually, I work alone, but my arms aren’t long enough for what had to be done here, and luckily I had a friend, photographer Marea Downey along. She tripped the camera’s shutter, while I stood in the middle of the line and painted the statues (she also took the following excellent picture showing my position).


At first I tried walking along and painting each statue individually, but I was blinded by the bright light and nearly broke my ankle in the rough footing. So I stayed put in the center.  This way, the statues closest to the camera (and therefore the biggest) were short lighted (that is, the shadow side of the face is closest to the camera) while the further statues (and therefore smaller) are broad lit (lit from the front) which make them appear a little bigger. Love to take credit for realizing this ahead of time, but really I was just try to beat the fading twilight and not break my leg, proving once again that in travel photography, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good! (Or that luck favors the prepared…).

This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing a great shot AND explanation of how you did it. I am an experienced traveller who is trying to learn how to capture more than just snaps. Great post….

  2. Fascinating post, I must try this – we have many Bronze Age relics on Dartmoor (UK) which would look incredible using this technique. Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. Miles: My mum was from Plymouth. Dartmoor is full of cool sites to try this technique. Have fun with it (and lift a pint for me!) cheers, Bob

  4. This promises to be a wonderful blog, thanks for sharing your experiences.

  5. I was very happy to see your email and Blog link! I have just gotten the courage to launch a web portfolio in the past few days so I am getting an itchy trigger finger for more images. Your web site is well timed. I hope all is well with you. Your friend in Indianapolis.

  6. Really great. Enjoyed meeting you and learning from you in Iceland. Still am using your LLBean photographer’s jacket that you designed and autographed.

  7. Thanks, Bob. It’s great to learn from you this way! I’m going to go find myself a flashlight.

  8. Geez Bob u r really a talented guy. What more can anyone say. Fred

  9. You’re a wonderful writer. It’s great context to the image. Thanks for the peek behind the curtain . . .
    See you soon.

  10. Hey Bob,
    Thanks for the turn on. Really interesting stuff – you are amazing! Gary and I will be avid readers!!!! Say hi to Peggy. All my best, Vicki

  11. Wow, secrets revealed! Do you think that’s a good idea:)

    Thanks so much for sharing and nice pix too!

    Bob Sacha

  12. Bob,

    Beautiful new Blog-site…Congrats!
    This is a great forum for everyone and a perfect way to share your passion of Photography.
    Now, please remind me next time on Rapa Nui to come out and join the midnight shoot, its the only picture missing!

    Carsten, Mykonos, Greece

  13. Why Carsten….

    What are YOU doing here? And Bob, who gives you these great gigs to get these images? Great blog…small world! Best to both.

  14. Nice picture, Bob. Now I’II know not to leave my reflector home! If you share your secrets, I’II do my best to come up with any good tips I can come up with, too! In the meantime, take good care and say hello to Peggy. You two have helped definitely set a high standard for us in our field.

  15. Dagnabbit! Now I HAVE to subscribe, since Bob Sacha is here!
    So how bad was the noise level at 30 seconds? Didja find a way to chill the camera first? Ooops, forgot – you’re a black lens guy.
    Great blog, Bob (and say that fast three times).

  16. Thanks for the Blog Bob! As always your tips are thorough and helpful. Great teaching and love your new book (Travel Photography). Hope to catch up with one of your classes soon. May the beautiful light continue to be with you!

    Stu Alderdyce

  17. Ah, now I get to return the love and tell you what a fan I am of your new blog! Great to have you join us in the blogging world and I will definitely send all my readers your way Bob. All the best.

    Paul Dymond

  18. Hi Bob,

    Finally you’ve got your blog! Congratulations and thanks for sharing your thoughts and knowledge!

    Very nice article! I’m fond of lightpainting. Personally I prefer it over strobes outdoors. A while ago I bought a cheap powerful torch on a petrol station almost right before shooting (a clever though came to my mind…). It’s always in my car since then. just need to use it more…

    Ilya Genkin
    Web: http://www.genkin.org
    Blog: http://www.genkin.org/blog

  19. pues a comprar linternas, si o si….

  20. Photographers have the unique experience of travelling the world to capture amazing shots. I enhoyed reading your photography blog. As a Singapore based photographer myself, I have had the chance to travel to many countries on various photography assignments. Enjoyed reading your blog!

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